Financial Fortitude: Safeguarding Your Dog Training Business from the Ups and Downs

We often hear from dog trainers concerned about changes in their earnings, and when the news is filled with discussions about economic downturns, it’s natural to feel concerned. It can be disconcerting to experience a drop in bookings and sales. The good news? Despite many economic upheavals over the years, the dog training industry remains a very resilient one. We’ve witnessed businesses survive and thrive through all sorts of challenges over the last 25 years, and always find creative ways forward. If you’re struggling with inconsistent income, don’t despair. Treat the moment as an opportunity to assess and make changes to get yourself back on track and protect yourself from future instability. Here are some tips to help:

Put your detective hat on

Sometimes we think we know why our business or income has changed, but it’s important to step back and really assess what’s happening. The closer we are to it, the harder this often is. Channel your inner detective and leave assumptions at the door. Areas that can play a big role include the stage of your business, your pricing and services, marketing efforts, and customer experience. Are certain services booked months in advance while others are dwindling? Where are your referrals coming from? When did you last increase your prices? What kind of feedback are you receiving from clients? Are you gathering feedback in the first place? Who is your competition, and what are they offering? Identifying the specific areas causing financial stagnation is the first step towards finding solutions.

Track the data

In the rollercoaster ride of running your dog training biz, don’t overlook the nitty-gritty of tracking your data. Sometimes our perceptions of how our business is doing doesn’t match reality, causing unnecessary panic. What looks like a big downturn may just be natural ebb and flow, such as a quieter December and January while people are away, or a patch of bad weather which puts people off booking classes. Take a look at previous data, such as the year before, to assess if things have actually slowed down. This can be more difficult for those starting out, if you have moved to a new location, or if you’ve changed your dog training niche. Speaking with other seasoned trainers can be helpful – they may be able to share common trends or times of year to watch out for. 

Establishing a robust system for data tracking allows you to cut through subjective impressions and assess the concrete numbers. Whether it’s enquiry numbers, new client rates, income patterns, or the efficacy of marketing strategies, any insights you can gather can serve as a compass to protect your business. 

What’s your price tag?

When was the last time you considered your prices? Be wary of thinking that lowering your rates is the magic solution to getting more clients – in our experience, this is rarely the case. Lower rates also tend to attract those hunting for a bargain, and they may be quick to jump ship if they see a ‘better’ deal elsewhere. In fact, it’s more likely that you may be underestimating the value of your services. This is a common pitfall for R+ dog trainers, who are often so passionate about making a difference they forget how precious their hard-won expertise and experience really is. If you’re struggling to keep things afloat, it’s time to re-evaluate your pricing structure, ensuring it aligns with your skills, the unique benefits you offer, and the market. If your rates don’t reflect the true value you bring, it’s easy to become burnt out – financially and emotionally. Price adjustments should be strategic – do your research and aim to be the best quality trainer in town, not the cheapest.

Are your services serving?

Another consideration when securing your business against financial bumps are your services. Ask yourself: Are your services still hitting the mark for your clients’ ever-changing needs? Are they relevant to your location, the people you want to work with, and the problems they’re grappling with? Do you have enough offerings for clients to come back for, and are you highlighting these throughout their time with you? Could diversifying your offerings help you reach more people and cater to more needs? Would some open enrollment options, for example, provide flexibility to busy households who forgot to add ‘book puppy classes!’ to their to-do list? Diversifying your services (and therefore revenue streams) could also involve online training courses, workshops, merchandise, or partnerships with local businesses. 

Sometimes, a niche focus might make more sense than offering a broad spectrum of training options. Tailoring your expertise to a specific niche not only allows you to hone your skills but also positions your business as a specialized authority in that area. It also allows you to tap into the current climate – it’s no coincidence that many trainers became successful puppy trainers and separation anxiety experts post lockdowns!

Are you getting the word out?

Your marketing efforts play a pivotal role in attracting clients. Many dog trainers find putting their foot on the marketing gas pedal – and keeping it there – a challenging part of their business. It can feel relentless, and it’s all too easy to lose steam. Are your current strategies cutting through the noise, or could a fresh approach shake things up? It may also be that changes you made months ago, such as failing to drop those flyers off at your local vet or not getting around to sending out your newsletter, are only now showing their impact.

Asking people how they heard about you is a useful way to assess different approaches. If you do a lot of social media advertising, pay attention to those analytics so you can put energy into what works. The same goes for your website. If you do feel like marketing is the issue, here are some tips on an easier and more effective approach, as well as a handy shortcut – our marketing toolkit.

Do your clients come back for more?

Your services are bang on, your marketing plan is set to ‘go’, and your pricing is strategic and competitive. But what about the experience of those you actually work with? The key to stable business success is not just getting new clients but also retaining and delighting your existing ones. Providing exceptional service creates a lasting impression, and results in loyal clients who come back for more. Not only that, but they are also more likely to spread the word about the amazing work you do. Make sure your interactions go beyond the training sessions; thoughtful check-ins, fun and friendly classes, seeking regular feedback, and celebrating success all contribute to making clients feel valued. Encourage open communication, listen to their concerns, and adapt your approach based on their feedback. You could also consider implementing loyalty programs and offering incentives for referrals. A positive client experience isn’t just a one-time transaction – it’s an ongoing relationship that, when nurtured, becomes a powerful force in propelling the stability and growth of your dog training business.

Create a safety buffer

While you can’t control the economy, you can do your best to prepare. Establishing some ‘financial cushioning’ serves as a crucial safety buffer during tougher times. If you can, set aside a percentage of your income for savings. This reserve can act as a safety net during leaner periods, helping your business remain resilient. Unexpected circumstances arise all the time, including illness, environmental issues and disasters, and family emergencies. Small business owners often overlook this, which makes the tough times even tougher. Financial planning and cushioning can go a long way to ensuring you’re well-equipped to handle these challenges.

As your business grows and evolves, so too will your understanding and approach towards creating a financially resilient business. The trick lies in recognizing what you can and can’t control, and focusing on those areas within your power. By staying positive and proactive, we hope you’ll be in it for the long game – better for you, and better for the dogs!